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It’s Deonte Harris’s time to shine

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The future is bright for the Saints’ All-Pro punt returner

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Not many NFL players have made it out of Assumption College in Worchester, MA. For the 2020 season, there will be 2 alumni of the DII school still playing in the league (which is, admittedly, more than I thought there were when researching this article). One is Buccaneers’ long snapper Zach Triner. The other? The more astute of you will [correctly] assume it’s New Oreals Saints’ dynamite return man Deonte Harris.

It’s no secret that Harris has already established himself as one of the best return men in football. Harris got off to a slow start in his first two games, but quickly made an impact within the first three minutes of the Saints’ Week 3 clash against the Seahawks, where he turned this into a touchdown.

Five Seahawks around him. At midfield. Kid took it for six. He’s clearly got something special. He finished 2019 with 60 total returns for 982 yards, with both of those numbers leading the league (that doesn’t even count his 8 total returns for 177 yards against the Vikings in the playoffs).

Those around the league took notice as well. Harris earned First-Team All-Pro honors at punt returner, as well as a Pro Bowl nod and was named to the PFWA All-Rookie team. If nothing else, Harris has his role on the Saints as return man for the foreseeable future.

However, I don’t think we’ve seen Harris at his best yet. With the Saints’ WR3 spot very much up for grabs after the departure of Ted Ginn, Harris could provide a good counter to Michael Thomas and the newly-signed Emmanuel Sanders. While those two are both better all-around receivers than Harris, neither of them can match Harris in terms of speed and agility (and very few can). Exhibit A: Harris’s 50-yard catch in the aforementioned playoff game, burning Xavier Rhodes and getting behind Harrison Smith for a play that would’ve been six with a better pass from Saints’ quarterback of the future Taysom Hill.

This was Harris’s only target past 10 yards last season (per PFF), and he only had one other target past the line of scrimmage. There are definite questions about how he’ll take to a bigger role in the offense, and even bigger questions about if he can even be utilized as a proper deep threat with the waning arm strength of Drew Brees. However, he doesn’t need to be a deep threat to be effective. He just needs the ball in space and he can make magic happen, and there are few coaches I trust more to get the right guys in space than Sean Payton.

With Ted Ginn leaving for Chicago, his 55 targets from 2019 are up for grabs. While most of those [rightfully] could be assumed to be going to Sanders, Harris could be given more chances to make players and establish himself as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL. He’s still got a long way to go, but the future looks bright for the former Assumption college man.